Points to touch:
- Is not Google but Intrinsic
- Is not ROS but the branch of Open Robotics
- What does all that mean?
- What could be the implications for the future of ROS and its community?
In December of 2022, big news shocked the ROS community: ROS was acquired by Intrinsic
In this episode of the Robotics Insider we are going to discuss:
- What actually happened and why?
- What can this mean for the future of ROS?
- Why does it matter for the ROS community?
All those points and more on the first episode of the Robotics Insider podcast.
What is Intrinsic
Intrinsic is a robotics software company with the idea of making industrial robots easy to use by means of easy interfaces and applications (not about creating easier industrial robots, but better usage software).
Wendy Tan, CEO of Intrinsic says:
We aim to build a platform that connects the providers of automation hardware and software — think equipment providers, or AI and machine learning experts — with businesses who need custom manufacturing solutions. With intuitive software, AI-enabled solution development and scalable infrastructure, more people will be able to build, design and deploy robotic applications to solve problems in ways they couldn’t before
Make industrial robot programming available, highly effective option for non-experts
From the web on Intrinsic:
To build a software platform for intelligent robotics; one that brings together the best of our collective capabilities and makes them usable for others
Intrinsic started as a group of people inside the X lab of Google. They did some pretty impressive systems that can plug/unplug USB cables, mount furniture and even mount architectural pieces. Then in 2021 graduated from Alphabet and became an independent company part of the Alphabet ecosystem with the name of Intrinsic.
Then in 2022 they acquired Vicarious, a company about using AI to automate tasks that are too complex to be automated by traditional means.
Then in December of 2022, Intrinsic acquired the Open Source Robotics Corporation, that is, the business part of Open Robotics.
So the first part of the title of this podcast is wrong: Google did not acquire ROS, but Intrinsic acquired ROS.
What is the structure of Open Robotics
For those who don’t know, Open Robotics is the company behind the development of ROS.
Open Robotics is composed of two parts:
- The Open Source Robotics Foundation
- The Open Source Robotics Corporation
OSRF is the one that holds the copyright of ROS, gazebo, Turtlebot, ROSCon and Open-RMF
OSRC is the one that does commercial projects, and dedicates time to develop and maintain parts of ROS, Gazebo and others. Also, OSRC has two parts, the OSRC which is mainly based in California, and the OSRC-SG based in Singapore and which is the one leading the development of Open-RMF
What has Intrinsic actually acquired
Intrinsic has acquired the OSRC and the OSRC-SG
Intrinsic has not bought the OSRF, the branch that has the IP of ROS, Gazebo and Open-RMF.
So what this means is that ROS, Gazebo, ROSCon, Open-RMF and Turtlebot are not part of the sale. They remain part of the OSRF and do not belong to Intrinsic.
So the second part of the title of this podcast is also not true: nobody has acquired ROS
If Intrinsic is buying only the OSRC which doesn’t hold the IP of ROS: What is Intrinsic actually getting on the sale and why?
It is not clear to me. As far as I can see, they are getting the team that developed the ROS and OSRC current projects business. They are getting the know how.
Why is Intrinsic buying it?
In my opinion, Intrinsic is focused on the construction of their platform. For that, they want to be compatible with ROS because is one of the standards. For that, they need to have the core team that developed and maintained it for the last 10 years.
Getting into the OSRF would only dilute their energies, and after all, they can make pressure afterwards with their contributions.
Why is Open Robotics selling?
They feel like the development of the three products was starting to be overwhelming, and cannot be maintained in the same way, only under the shoulders of Open Robotics.
As Brian Gerkey (former CEO of Open Robotics) stated The robotics industry has grown tremendously in size and complexity, and its need for reliable open source software continues to grow […] At the same time, it has become increasingly challenging for OSRF, as a small organization, to meet the diverse needs of such a large and growing user community. OSRF could not simultaneously restructure to a more durable governance model while continuing to service OSRC’s customer commitments.
And he continues Intrinsic is the ideal home for OSRC, where our team will have a greater ability to improve ROS, Gazebo, and Open-RMF so that they can be used in even more domains, with ever-higher demands for software quality, testing, and platform support.
So it happens that the system was too complex to be managed by Open Robotics alone, so by going to Intrinsic, they will have more resources to do it.
Tully Foote (former ROS platform manager of Open Robotics) said, this arrangement is in the best interest of the projects, the user community, and the robotics industry. We believe that this approach will accelerate the development of the projects while simultaneously improving engagement with our user communities
But he doesn’t say in which sense and how.
Also, it is not clear how the acquisition by Intrinsic is going to alleviate the first problem. Actually, in my opinion is going to worsen, since a lot of the developers are removed from their day to day development.
Until the community organizes to start supporting it in the correct way, it can take months if not a year to continue development.
Tuly Foote indicates that some things don’t change. ROS 2 Iron Irwini will ship next May on World Turtle Day, and Gazebo H will ship next September, but I don’t see how is this going to be possible if the people in charge of that is moved from their duties to go to work at Intrinsic in other things. Are they going to keep their tasks? As for what is in the release, I understand they are not.
As Brian Gerkey states At Intrinsic, I’ll be leading the former OSRC team, working directly with the CEO of Intrinsic, Wendy Tan White. We will be contributing open source software to the community, continuing to work with our existing customers, and also building valuable new types of tools, products, and services for commercial customers with and on top of our open source tools.
I did not find any place where it is clearly stated that there will be a team at Intrinsic working on the development of the next releases of ROS2 and other software, even if the question was clearly stated in the Discourse Forum. The only piece I found is from Tuly Foote, stating that the OSRC team has time allocated for training and knowledge transfer to the OSRF team and will also be available to assist with any urgent issues.
Andreas Bihlmaier (head of robotics software architecture at Intrinsic) says Prior to the acquisition, developers at OSRC split their time contributing to core repositories and servicing commercial projects. The status quo is not fundamentally changing
So how are the releases of ROS2 and others been maintained is a mystery since the maths doesn’t work.
What is the organization of Open Robotics after the acquisition?
- OSRF is still the administrator of the Github, continue running the project websites (ros.org, gazebosim.org, Discourse, Answers, etc), putting together ROSCon, and developing the TurtleBot
- The CEO of the OSRF is now Vanessa Yamzon, and the CTO is Geoffrey Biggs
- The name of Open Robotics will still be property of OSRF
- The growth of ROS will be managed in a different way. The OSRF will be in charge of that but in a closer way to that of the Linux Foundation. Instead of being the OSRC the one that gets the money to finance the development of ROS in the OSRF, it will be the members of the OSRF the ones that finance it.
- This transition is going to be developed in the next months
- Intrinsic (plus OSRC) will be just another company involved in the development of ROS like any other could be, like yours, like yours or like yours
How is OSRF going to be financed?
As Geofrey Biggs says assets already held in reserve, OSRF also received proceeds from the sale of OSRC and OSRC-SG. Aside from this, OSRF has various sources of funding such as licensing, royalties, and grants to support its ongoing operations.
We also receive financial support from companies and individuals who are beneficiaries of OSRF’s projects.
Also said in typical Foundations actual development work is performed by interested contributors throughout the community, from large commercial users to individual hobbyists. OSRF also has outside contractors who maintain and improve the infrastructure, such as the build farm, that the projects depend on.
One of those contributors will be Intrinsic.
Where is the business?
Building a software platform that makes robotic applications easier to develop, deploy, and maintain
- Creating an App store for robots. Of course they will try to create such a store on their platform as so many others are trying to do right now.
- Provide cloud services
- Selling data
- Adding extra app layers that require licensing (like with Android), also known as introducing proprietary components.
How is it going to affect to ROS?
As Brian Gerkey indicates:
Being part of Intrinsic not only allows us to invest more into ROS, Gazebo and Open-RMF, but to go further by making new options available to developers through the Intrinsic platform.
OSRF, not Intrinsic, will be responsible for directing the roadmap for ROS, Gazebo and Open-RMF Project
So, it is supposed that the development of ROS will remain independent of Intrinsic… in theory. Because at the end, priorities will be decided by the largest contributor to the foundation.
Tully Foote says: Of course the broader community–from large corporations to bug-fixing students–have features that they want implemented. As with any organization that contributes to open source software, Intrinsic has an interest in seeing features it wants or needs added to ROS as a priority. This does not mean that any features Intrinsic is not interested in will be ignored or abandoned. As core contributors, committers and maintainers, the OSRC team at Intrinsic will continue to ensure contributors have a fair chance of seeing their feature or fix being merged into the source code.[…] OSRF and Intrinsic both want a future where Intrinsic is just one of a large group of contributors.
So far, the ROS developers team of Intrinsic have assigned a certain amount of time to teach the OSRF team and to keep the development of some parts.
Tuly foote says: In the mid and long-term, Intrinsic is interested in seeing ROS, Gazebo, and Open-RMF become even more useful for in-production, for-sale robots in the same way that the Linux kernel is useful for in-production, for-sale devices from televisions to mission-critical servers. This naturally leads to an interest in stability of the core software and features. However, Intrinsic also wants to see the software grow in usefulness and applicability. The OSRC team at Intrinsic will work on both making the existing features more stable and reliable as well as adding new features that benefit both Intrinsic and the community.
We can expect proprietary code to be released by Intrinsic. As Geoffrey Biggs says you can expect that as the OSRC team at Intrinsic makes contributions that those contributions will be copyrighted by Intrinsic.
But this is not something new, since other companies have been already doing the same, like Apex.AI, Willow Garage and others.
We can expect a transition to a model like the one of the Linux Foundation. And what does this mean: that the core will be maintained by a small group of hired people. Also, that feature or bug fixing requests will be processed according to the level of contribution to the Foundation. And by contribution, I mean money.
My feeling is that they want to have the robot app store, with extra services in the cloud for the development of the apps, continuous integration and so. Put it simple to developers to create robot apps, and also simple to distribute, and to users to use.
What is clear is that the year of 2023 is going to be an interesting year for the robotics industry and that ROS is more alive than ever.
2023 is going to be the year that puts ROS to the test. If it is able to survive this year with the planned release of ROS2 Iron in May and Gazebo H in September, then its success is assured.
If you, like us, believe that ROS is going to be the framework of the robots of the future, then start training your team on ROS skills with the live trainings that The Construct provides. We have a training in 3 days about ROS2 basics including navigation and grasping, and another training on robot fleet management using the Open-RMF software.
Check the link below to know more and start the training of your team.
See you in two weeks with another episode about how ChatGPT is going to affect robot development.
We tried to contact the people of Intrinsic and Open Robotics involved in the whole process to get their opinions but none of them replied to us. All the opinions are the ones of the person who said them. We tried to be as objective as we can be based on the information that is available. We are happy to be corrected on any mistake we may have done, and we will publish a correction note if we receive a correction.
- The OSRC Team is Joining Intrinsic and What it Means for the ROS Community
- Alphabet’s Intrinsic Acquires Majority of Open Robotics
- Intrinsic Acquires OSRC and OSRC-SG
- Will documentation of core ROS2 functionality be higher on the priority list?
- Intrinsic – Building opportunities for the world’s robotics developers
- The Construct ROS1 & ROS2 academy
- The Robotics Developer Master Class 2023
- The full 3 days training The Construct delivers about ROS2 including basics of ROS2, ROS2 Navigation and ROS2 Manipulation
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